Mario Perez lives in Miami, but he was in Orlando for a housewarming party Saturday, June 11. After the party, the 34-year-old went to Pulse for Latin night.
At 2 a.m., he heard gun shots. Loud. He knew it was real.
“And the minute he started shooting, I got hit from the side, I got grazed by a bullet," Perez said. "My first instinct was to fall to the floor, that’s what you’re taught to do.”
He heard gunshot after gunshot after gunshot. It was too many to count. But then there was a brief break in the firing, and Perez ran out the back of the club. He hid inside the kitchen of a nearby 7-eleven until police and paramedics showed up. He was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center, and was at the emergency room from 3 a.m. until 8 a.m.
Today, the gunshot wound on his side is purple and swollen, and he has nerve damage from the bullet fragment. He cut his elbow open from glass on the floor of the nightclub and got six stitches. Perez doesn’t know how much bills coming from specialists, x-rays or other tests may cost him. But his bill from Orlando Regional Medical Center’s emergency department: $20,000.
"$20,000," Perez said. "That's the quote, that's what they told me."
Perez has no health insurance. He’s working for a temp agency right now and doesn’t have the money to be seen by a doctor for follow up care in Miami. So he drove back to Orlando to get care at Camping World Stadium.
"They gave me gift cards and are gonna assist me with anything I need, such as medical, but I don’t know how long that’s gonna take to kick in," Perez said.
So just how much will the Pulse nightclub shooting cost all of the victims? It’s a difficult, if not impossible question to answer right now. At last check, there were 56 people brought to the hospital, and 14 are still the there, including three in the intensive care unit.
Embry Howell is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington. She studied the average cost of a gunshot victim in 2010. Using that benchmark, she estimated the hospital costs from the Pulse shooting would be about $1 million dollars.
"And I would imagine that would be an underestimate," Howell said.
Howell said many of the victims may be in the same boat as Mario Perez – uninsured.
"Since they’re young, primarily latino and living in Florida where you haven’t taken the Medicaid expansion, my guess would be you have a high rate of uninsured," Howell said.
Ted Miller is Ph.D. researcher with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an independent nonprofit research firm who has been studying the cost of firearm injuries for more than two decades. He used the 2011 shooting of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Arizona to make what he calls a conservative estimate.
His estimate: $4 to $7 million dollars in medical costs and mental health costs for victims and survivors of people who died. That's the lifetime medical costs for the survivors, the costs of surgery, the cost of rehab. But it doesn't count the long-term costs for those who are severely injured.
"They said some time ago that there were six people in ICU who would have long time, serious consequences," Miller said. "And my guess is most of those folks will have traumatic brain injuries that will have continuing lifetime care."
Miller also did a broader estimate beyond just the medical costs. That includes the cost of the police response, the cost to employers – and, as icky as it may sound, the dollar value of those 49 lost lives.
"I estimate that the total cost of the Orlando shooting is around $385 to $390 million," Miller said. "To put that in context, on that same day, the cost of other gunshot wounds in the U.S. was probably about $600 million. So about one and a half times the cost of the Orlando incident. That tells you that there are a lot of people killed and injured by firearms every day in this country."
Orlando Regional got 44 of the shooting victims. It’s not clear exactly how many of the patients have insurance, but a hospital spokeswoman said some patients have coverage, some don’t. The hospital is going to look for payment sources from the community or the state such as victim funds that are raising money across the country. But she says the hospital expects unreimbursed costs of more than $1 million.
What’s not included in that $385 million? The cost of mental health counseling for people who were in the club but not physically shot – and friends and family of those there. And then there’s the cost of fear: People being afraid to go out to a dance club, or maybe skipping a visit to the theme parks.
For Mario Perez, the Pulse shooting victim, he’s worried he’s going to lose his job. He’s anxious knowing millions of dollars have been raised to help victims, but his bills are arriving now. He started his own GoFundMe campaign to cover the expenses, but it's only raised $260.
"As long as it gets covered, I’m gonna be fine," Perez said. "If they don’t cover it, I'm stuck in a hole. I don’t know what I’m gonna be able to do if they don’t assist me.”